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Why some people are always late (Hint: It’s not because they are rude)

You’re tapping your foot, looking at your iPhone, and trying really hard to just breathe.

Yes, your colleague or friend is late — again.

It’s frustrating to consistently have to wait to meet with a colleague or boss. You may have other tasks to complete and want to get out of the office on time, and the person’s lateness prevents you from doing that.

Even when the person is a friend, and the activity is social, lateness can be annoying. Maybe you don’t want to miss the first five minutes of a movie or risk having your dinner reservations canceled because your pal is too late.

Your feelings are valid. Understanding why people are always late may help you cope — and surprise you. Most notably, it may be comforting to know the person isn’t trying to be rude or disrespectful. Let’s discuss reasons for chronic lateness and how to deal.

a man in a cab looking at his watch

Why are people always late?

Understanding why someone is late can help put the situation in perspective and enhance your empathy for them. Every person is unique. Your tardy friend’s reasons may be different than your boss’, but there are some common causes of chronic lateness.

Perception of time

Have you ever experienced a day where the minutes feel like hours? Other times, you may look at the clock and find yourself shocked it’s already 5 p.m. It turns out, some people experience time differently regularly. In one study, a researcher divided participants into two types: Type A and Type B. People in the Type A group tended to be more punctual, while Type B’s were later.

Perception may have been to blame. Type A’s thought a full minute had passed by the 58-second mark. The Type B group thought a minute had passed after 77 seconds. A few seconds may not feel like much, but it can add up over time and make people with Type B personalities a few minutes or more late chronically.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety is a common type of anxiety that about 12 percent of U.S. adults experience during their lifetime. People with social anxiety disorder often avoid gatherings, whether they’re large or with one person. They may make excuses for why they can’t attend an event. If they do go, it may take them a while to find the courage to get out the door. These moments can ultimately cause them to be late.

They may also intentionally try to be the last person there, so they aren’t stuck talking to someone — a potential trigger for their condition — while waiting for others to arrive.

Optimism

Sometimes, delays happen, such as canceled trains or increased traffic, and even punctual people wind up late. However, many people usually budget a little extra time for commutes to allot for these potential snafus.

People who are chronically late may not. One expert shared that continually tardy individuals are often too optimistic about how long it will take to get somewhere. They don’t anticipate delays, nor do they consider the fact that it may take longer to drive five miles in rush-hour traffic than it is during an afternoon lull.

a woman on her phone and computer

How to cope with a person who is always late

Empathy is helpful, but it may only take you so far. Even if you understand why people are always late, you may still find yourself frustrated about someone’s chronic lateness. Try some other coping strategies.

  • Breathe. Simple breathing exercises, such as box breathing, can help you reduce stress caused by the late person and keep you in the moment.   
  • Give them an earlier time. If the person is habitually late, consider telling them to arrive 10 minutes earlier than you actually plan to get there.
  • Stick to a phone call. If you can’t handle a person’s lateness, consider making some of your meet-ups phone calls or FaceTimes instead. That way, if the person doesn’t answer or call at the agreed-upon time, you can immerse yourself in something else, such as a good book or playlist while you wait.
  • Go to the person’s home. Cut a person’s perception of time or optimism out of the equation. When you go to a person’s home, only one person has to commute and arrive on time: You.
  • Be understanding. Keep in mind mental health conditions can be managed but not cured. If a person has social anxiety disorder and arrives late — but still shows up — that’s a compliment to you. They trust you enough to be in a social or work setting with you. Shifting your perspective can help you feel less frustrated.

Constantly having to wait around for someone who is late can be frustrating. You may think the habit is rude, but you may feel better knowing that it likely isn’t the person’s intent. Differences in perception of time and optimism about how easy it will be to get to a specific location can cause chronic lateness. Other times, the person may be anxious about being the first one there or attending a work or social event at all. If the constant lateness is bothering you, there are ways to cope, such as telling a person you’d like to meet earlier than you actually plan to get there. You can also go to the person’s home. That way, you’re the only one who has to show up on time.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

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